Turning Four: Looking Back on Parenting a Three-Year-Old

Turning Four: Looking Back on Parenting a Three-Year-Old; From the emotional outbursts of threenagers to the joys of independence, three is a tough but awesome age for kids and parents alike. (Photo: Boy riding away on a balance bike on a sidewalk.)

A few Saturdays ago, Sprout accompanied me on my community bike ride, acting as an enthusiastic second and playing readily with other kids on the playground. The next day, he broke down screaming three separate times when we were celebrating an early Fathers’ Day brunch with my parents and in-laws. I actually picked him up and left the restaurant so he could calm down, something I almost never have to do. This past year with a three-year-old has been full of contradictions: happy/sad, stable/falling apart, independent/clingy. With him on the cusp between being a toddler and school-aged kid, we felt the full-brunt of the threenager phase. With his birthday just past, I’m looking back at the ups and downs of living with a three-year-old.

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The Death Conversation with a Three-Year-Old

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I found out that I couldn’t attend my grandmother’s funeral in my ob-gyn’s office. After my doctor observed that I was several centimeters dilated, I asked, “So I shouldn’t go to New Jersey on Monday then?” Looking up from between my legs, she said, “No, You probably shouldn’t travel out of state.” Between the fact that I missed the funeral and the baby was born that afternoon meant that I never told my older son about my grandmother’s death. He had only met her once, briefly, so it would have met little to him anyway. But it made me realize how urgent it was to talk about the subject with him.

In particular, my other grandmother is getting up in years. Sprout has met “Grammy” several times and remembers her. While her passing may be years away, there’s no way to know. Needless to say, I didn’t want finding out about her death to be Sprout’s introduction to the topic.

But I had no idea where to start.

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On Little Bird’s First Birthday

Photo: Baby lying next to a swaddled teddy bear; Text: "On Little Bird's First Birthday / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So"

“Ah ah, come back here!” I yelp as my baby once again arches his back, flips over and stands up on his changing table. Somewhere between wrestling and tickling him, I finally manage to get a fresh diaper on. But that’s Little Bird at one year old – high energy and big emotions.

When he was first born, he was a touch over five pounds. He was just bigger than his teddy bear, swaddled in thin blankets. Still convinced that he belonged in the womb, he dozed in the pack-and-play even when his brother was sing-yelling next to him. At first, it seemed like he was going to be adorably sleepy and quiet.

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Storytime with Hop and Bun, the Imaginary Bunnies

Photo: Stuffed white rabbit sitting on a bookshelf. Text:

This is actually Snowball, our “pet bunny.” But good luck getting a photo of an imaginary friend.

“Tell me a Hop and Bun story,” Sprout says, his pants around his ankles as he’s sitting on the toilet. Perched on the side of the bathtub, I look off into the distance, as if I can pluck an idea from the mirror above the sink. “Hmmmm, well,” I stall, wracking my brain. “Once upon a time, there were two bunnies, named Hop and Bun. They were best friends. One day…”

Eventually, I always come up with something. The plots have ranged from the hapless bunnies getting lost on the subway to saving up money and buying a scooter.

While I love telling Sprout stories – despite the odd circumstances – that’s not my favorite part of this routine. No – it’s the fact that Hop and Bun are utterly from Sprout’s imagination. I played no part in their creation. They aren’t drawn from a book or TV show. One day, Sprout just declared that he was a bunny named Hop and Bun was his friend.

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The “But Why?” Phase

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I have to be the only parent in history looking forward to my kid’s “Why?” stage. I imagined a whole universe of learning lying ahead of us. I’d answer questions until I ran out of answers and then we’d look it up together, snuggled up in the light of the computer screen. When we didn’t have time, we’d write them down to investigate later. When I’d ask him what he thought, he’d come up with a brilliant but age-appropriate answer, showing equal parts creativity and insight.

Like any parenting fantasy, it didn’t work out that way.

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Six Months with Little Bird in Our Lives

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Despite his nickname, Little Bird has always strived to be big. When he was inside me, he wouldn’t just kick, he’d stretch, his feet jamming into my organs. He arrived 3 1/2 weeks early, scrambling out into the world unexpectedly. Now he’s been with us for more than six months, a half-year full of so many changes.

When Little Bird arrived, he was a peanut, just over five pounds. As Sprout said, “He’s so teeny tiny!” Because he hadn’t gained most of the fat babies do in their last weeks in utero, his wrinkly face looked especially old-mannish.

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Welcome to the World, Little Bird

Babies are incredible at beautifully mucking up whatever plans you have for them. While his brother was five days late, our new munchkin arrived on Friday, a full three and a half weeks early! (I had been telling everyone, “Well, even if he’s earlier than his brother, he’ll still just be on time.” Ha!) Of course, I had been telling Sprout that his brother would arrive in spring, “when the flowers start blooming and the trees get their buds.” I thought with unseasonably warm weather, that the baby would be late weeks in comparison, but he turned out to be right on time.

Welcome to the World, Little Bird!

Despite him arriving much earlier than planned and faster than anticipated, both of us are doing well. (His birth was actually a bit dramatic, but I’ll tell that story later.) He was a little on the small side, but is eating fairly regularly. He’s a lot more sleepy than his brother was, but that’s common for early babies and Sprout slept very little for a newborn anyway. Sprout stayed with a friend during the delivery, but was thrilled when Chris’s parents arrived and showed him the picture of his brother and I. I was worried he would be negative – and there’s still plenty of time for mixed feelings – but it was a good sign.

But the baby’s entrance threw me for a loop, planning wise. Thankfully, we have most of the essentials for him – crib, mattress, sheets, clothes, car seat, changing pad – although we’re still waiting on his rocking chair to be delivered. But there are a couple of items at work I really wanted to wrap up before leaving for 10 weeks. And I had a whole schedule of blog posts that I intended to write and have here at the ready. So much for that idea.

Considering all that, it’s going to be a bit quiet around here for a while, even though it won’t be so quiet in our house.

Most importantly, welcome to the world, my beautiful baby boy, my Little Bird.

2015 With My Two-Year-Old

In my late 20s, years seemed slip together, distinguished mainly by what vacations I took or other special events. But as a parent, the transition from one year to the next feels much weighter, with time measured in huge milestones in your child’s life. While I usually reflect on major milestones on Sprout’s birthday, I liked Mommy’s Shorts reflections on her six year old for New Years.  Plus, Chris and I were just reflecting about how much Sprout has changed over the last year.

2015 with my two year old

This year, Sprout learned to –

Talk and actually have conversations: At the beginning of the year, he had a handful of words, with his communication virtually all non-verbal. After his language explosion just before his second birthday, he had a much bigger vocabulary, but still lacked the grammar and understanding to put it together. But in the last six months, he’s turned into a little conversationalist. He can tell you a bit about his day, narrate what someone else is going to do (we got a multi-part explanation of Chris pouring his cereal this morning), and describe the plot of a book. He even makes jokes, which at least he thinks are hilarious. Before his bedtime, we always ask each other what our favorite thing was that day. Invariably, he answers, “My favorite thing was going to the park,” even when he knows perfectly well we didn’t go to the park that day. When we reply, as we always do, “But we didn’t go to the park today,” he just giggles.

Make-believe and tell stories: At the beginning of the year, he loved to listen to us tell stories, but didn’t have the language skills to do it on his own. Now he regularly makes us pretend food in his kitchen, including tea and apple cider. He takes it quite seriously too – he was clearly hurt the other day when he “made” me coffee the other day and I reminded him that I don’t like coffee! He also loves pretending to talk on his play phone. The other day we had a series of conversations where he talked to different relatives who were all coincidently played by me. On storytelling, he’s already picked up on our “There once was a boy named Sprout” structure. Just out of the blue one day, he told us “There once was a boy named Sprout and he loved cake.” Not much of a plot, but it’s a start! To encourage his storytelling skills, I bought him this neat deck of cards for Christmas. While he can’t use them on his own yet, he seems to enjoy making them up with Chris.

Identify his alphabet, numbers, and colors: While we don’t super-emphasize the academic stuff, we do have a bunch of alphabet and counting books. Reading the Dr. Seuss ABC book so many times (even with its made-up words) seems to actually sunk in a bit.

Sing and (sort of) make music: This child loves to sing. (Unless it’s actually in music class, of course.) Chris and Sprout have now been attending Music Together classes for over a year. While we signed him up just to get some socialization in, it seems he’s actually picked up some musical skills, including a sense of rhythm. Considering I played saxophone for eight years and still have trouble keeping a beat, I’m quite proud of him. More importantly, he really loves music. He can sing a bunch of songs (including House at Pooh Corner, albeit garbled) and when he doesn’t remember the lyrics, just sort of says “la la la.” After we put him to bed tonight, he sang “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to his stuffed animals. He got a mini-drum set and kid’s “saxophone” for Christmas and they’re some of his favorite gifts. Earlier tonight, he was pretending to use a microphone and declared, “Needs more…saxophone!” As my love of music has brought me joy in good times and comfort in difficult ones, I’m so glad that I can share that with him.

Show emotions clearly: For quite a while, Sprout’s emotions were surprisingly hard to read. When he didn’t like something a lot, he let us know, but it was difficult to tell the difference between enjoyment and tolerance. These days, he smiles and laughs easily and often. Similarly, he definitely lets us know exactly when he doesn’t like something with a series of “No no no no nos!” He’s still a serious, focused little boy when there’s something he’s really interested in or in a new situation, but he’s not like that all of the time. Earlier, we could have urged him more to show emotion, but I’m glad we respected him where he was so he could feel free to become himself.

Form opinions on things: So many opinions. It takes 15 minutes to get him dressed because he wants to pick out his own clothes, resulting in some hilariously mismatched outfits. He knows what toys he enjoys the most, especially that great love of trains. He even has specific, quirky opinions on music – he’s requested Bob Dylan several times lately! (Mr. Tamborine Man, specifically.)

Run and climb: Sprout adores running, especially around the house and at church. (The long hallway at our church with a ramp and water fountain at one end is irresistible.) While he’s still cautious, he can scramble right up the cargo net at the playground. He has an absurd amount of energy, so that I actually fall asleep on the couch some nights after putting him to bed, even when he’s chatting to his animals for the next hour.

This year has been challenging, demanding and wonderful. Watching Sprout not just grow up but grow into himself is such a privilege as a mom. I can’t wait to see what happens this year.